Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ It may not have the re-readability of the author’s best books, but it’s a great ride while it’s happening.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋 The writing style has a clinical, “true crime” feel that fits the subject matter perfectly, and the set pieces are juggled with precision. The character development is also quite good, although it feels less than the sum of its parts.


Published May 21, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 978-1538750148

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime, Serial Killers, Psychological Thriller

🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 Many gun battles, references to child soldiers in South America, human trafficking, as well as various serial killer details (descriptions of body disposal, etc.).
💋💋💋💋 There is only one sex scene in the book and it’s described with limited detail. There are various scenes of women being threatened, references to teen pregnancy and sadomasochistic activity (bondage bars, sexual fantasies).
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 This book follows characters who have lived in war zones (recollections of battle gore, abuse), as well as characters who have serial killer pathologies (kinky sexual obsessions, bizarre behavior).


Years ago in her home country, Cari Mora saw terrible things. Now she works in Miami, a caretaker for at an occasionally-rented mansion that belonged to Pablo Escobar. Hans-Peter Schneider knows that there is more to this house than meets the eye: Escobar’s friends left something there that any man would kill to have. All Hans-Peter must do is get into the house, and take care of some locals who are “watching the home” for a certain man in South America. He thinks this lovely housekeeper may be just what he needs …
It’s hard to read a new Thomas Harris novel without considering his legacy. He started his career with three excellent crime novels (Black Sunday, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs). The latter two books featured the iconic Dr. Hannibal Lecter, making Harris wealthy and acclaimed. However, his follow-up Lecter novels (Hannibal, Hannibal Rising) left much to be desired, and there’s a 13-year gap between Hannibal Rising and Cari Mora. So, this is a book by an author who has shown his mastery, if not consistency.
The book starts well, pulling readers immediately into its high stakes plot and exotic setting. It becomes clear that Harris is using the “Beast obsessed with Beauty” motif that appears in his other books, but gives readers a new angle on it. Cari’s backstory is dramatic but not overdone, and her struggles as a Temporary Protected Status refugee makes her a different kind of heroine than Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. The scenes of her navigating a male-centric crime world create some interesting drama (especially since some of the men are smart enough to take her seriously). Hans-Peter Schneider is a serial killer like many other Harris villains, but with unique obsessions. Some scenes showing Hans-Peter’s “tools and toys” are quite inventive, showing that Harris has stayed current on technology that humans can use for terrible purposes.
However, even though Cari is fascinating and Hans-Peter is disturbing, neither of them add up to what they could be. Harris’ best heroes have potent images or details that feel specific to them, urges that only they can fill. His best villains have their own urges, ones that complement the heroes in unexpected ways, generating primal competitions to see who survives. Cari has a sympathetic backstory, some interesting images, but no unique drive that sets her apart from other refugee survivor characters. Hans-Peter is creepy but has no vision that drives his crimes, and no special reason why Cari attracts him. Thus, this book has great elements, but they never coagulate into something iconic. It’s well worth reading once, but lacks the “extra something” that made Harris’ best work unforgettable.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Perfect for classic crime noir fans, and for readers seeking a well-developed psychological thriller.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The author creates an almost cinematic style with strong images, tight plotting and careful pacing the suspense elements.


Published December 7, 2021 by New York Review of Books

Edition: Movie tie-in edition

Originally published in 1946.

ISBN: 978-1681376103

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime

🔪🔪 One death by poisoning, a violent fight at the climax, various scenes of psychological suspense.
💋💋💋💋 Various sexual references in dialogue, and three to five brief sex scenes (all of which move the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Stan Carlisle isn’t planning to spend the rest of his life as a low-level carnival lackey. He’s got plans, and a taste for stage magic which Madam Zeena helps him develop. Before long, the carnival isn’t big enough for Stan’s dreams, so he and his new wife Molly hit the road as a mentalist act. When Stan changes masks to become Reverend Carlisle, Spiritualist minister and counselor to those interested in the other side, Molly worries that they’ve gone beyond putting on a show for honest money. As Stan targets a wealthy new “client,” he nears the line that he may never return from.
This novel was a bestseller when it came out in 1945, then in and out of print for decades – this edition was released for Guillermo del Toro’s new movie version. C.S. Lewis fans may be familiar with it, since the author’s ex-wife Joy Davidman went on to marry Lewis (an unusual courtship captured in the movie Shadowlands). Like many noir novels, Nightmare Alley is an antihero story about a character’s lusts taking him into dark territory. Gresham makes Stan likeable enough that even as he descends, he’s still fascinating to watch. Molly increasingly becomes the moral voice, but the story balances her warnings and Stan’s hunger for more, making each compelling. The balance is helped by Gresham capturing the suspense in magic acts – the magician collecting or deducing information, pretending he’s struggling to get a reading, the climax as he shocks the audience. Like a great thriller novelist describing a heist, Gresham transports readers into these scenes, making each detail feel vital. Thus, even as it becomes hard to imagine how Stan can survive his journey, readers stay to see how he reaches his destination.
Stan isn’t the only fascinating character – Gresham describes the carnival and its inhabitants with vivid language. Many have compared the carnival scenes to Tod Browning’s 1932 movie “Freaks,” an inside look at circus performers that makes even the most unusual performers (the man with no legs, the conjoined twins) seem human. This helps the book enormously, keeping the “weird events at the carnival” setting from becoming garish or cliché.
Overall, Gresham tells a classic noir tale of someone flirting with forbidden things, a journey that feels preordained but can’t be missed. The characters walk dark paths, but the book never lands in nihilism. Readers see how characters lose their way, but the morals are implied rather than preached. Decades later, this gut-wrenching thriller still holds up.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.